At the Viennale: Chris Marker Lives!

Posted on Film Comment‘s blog, November 16, 2012. — J.R.

Much as Godard’s special brand of cultural tourism quickly became a dominant influence at international film festivals half a century ago, the literal tourism of the late Chris Marker became a major reference point in many of the edgiest offerings at the Viennale, celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. Fittingly, the last to date of the festival’s annual commissioned one-minute trailers, 19 of which were just issued on a DVD, was by Marker himself — a somewhat jaundiced view of the “perfect” film viewer as sought by Méliès, Griffith, Welles, and Godard, eventually and rather sadly achieved in the sad figure of Osama bin Laden watching a Tom and Jerry cartoon on a TV set.

Museum-Hours

Marker’s more benign influence was especially evident in Jem Cohen’s magisterial Museum Hours, a luminous mix of fiction and essay set in Vienna itself, where it takes the form of a casual friendship developing between a guard at the Kunsthistorisches Art Museum (played by Bobby Sommer — a familiar and friendly Viennale presence, who has worked for many years at its guest office) and a Canadian tourist (Mary Margaret O’Hara) who arrives to visit a dying cousin and turns up at the museum.Read more »

Myths of the New Narrative (and a Few Counter-Suggestions)

The following is taken from the online Moving Image Source, and the first introductiion is by David Schwartz. –J.R.

This essay was commissioned by the Museum of the Moving Image in 1988 for a catalogue accompanying the month-long, 150-film retrospective Independent America: New Film 1978-1988. The ambitious series, which took place during the Museum’s inaugural season, was an attempt to make a statement not just about the state of experimental filmmaking at the time but also about the Museum’s wide-ranging programming philosophy.

The underlying idea was to showcase films that were cinematically inventive, works that broke boundaries in form and content, subverted conventions, and created new hybrid forms. In this way, the series revealed the inadequacy of such confining labels as “avant-garde,” “fiction,” and “documentary,” and it also tried to reinvigorate the notion of what it means to be “independent.”

Before the commercial success of Sex, Lies, and Videotape and Pulp Fiction (and before the rise of home video), independent filmmakers made and showed their films in a world truly apart from Hollywood. To get their work seen, they would travel for months, with their 16mm film prints in tow, to colleges and media arts centers across the country.Read more »

Displaced Agendas, Real Corpses: NIGHT WILL FALL

Written for Artforum (February 2015). — J.R.

Night-Will-Fall-Holocaust-Documentary1

Doomed by shifting postwar social and political agendas, the never-completed documentary German Concentration Camps Factual Survey — launched in April 1945 by the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force and shelved in September — might have been the key nonfiction film on the subject had it been finished and shown as originally planned, as required viewing for German prisoners of war. Shot by trained GI  cameramen accompanying British, American, and Russian troops as they liberated the camps, it might even have served as the principal disclosure to the rest of the world of the hitherto unthinkable conditions these troops uncovered.

NightWillFall-inmate

Produced by Sidney Bernstein — an old chum of Alfred Hitchcock’s who would later produce, uncredited, Hitchcock’s Rope (1948), Under Capricorn (1949), and I Confess (1953), and who persuaded Hitchcock to come to London to supervise the documentary’s postproduction — the film was halted by British embarrassment about the tangled fate of camp survivors (many of whom chose to remain in the camps, having nowhere else to go), combined with a reluctance to further demoralize the postwar German populace. But there was still enough of a desire to educate (or browbeat) the Germans to engage Billy Wilder to make a short film using parts of the atrocity footage, yielding Death Mills, which premiered in 1945 to five hundred viewers in Würzburg after a Lilian Harvey operetta, although only seventy-five or so remained to the end.… Read more »

Sights and Smells and…

From The Soho News (July 2, 1980). This was my first encounter with the delightful and inspired couple Yervant Gianikian and Angela Ricci Lucchi, subsequently known for their wonderful found-footage films, e.g. From the Pole to the Equator (1987) and Prisoners of War (1995). — J.R.

One interesting thing about aesthetic hybrids — movies with smells, or jazz posing as film criticism — is that nobody knows what to do with them, critics included. Whether these unusual and unlikely yokings represent examples of useful, exploratory or merely wishful thinking is essentially a matter of personal taste. In the two instances under review, a crucial factor in determining one’s taste is packaging, pure and simple — how and where an audience gets placed.

Apart from isolated experiments — including a recent one by Les Blank, reportedly utilizing the odors of red beans and rice — it seems that commercial efforts to link smells with movies have mainly come in two separate, pungent waves. A couple of early talkies, Lilac Time and The Hollywood Revue, played around with the idea in a few theaters; the latter, a plotless musical, climaxed with a snoutful of orange scent to go with “Orange Blossom Time,” performed by Charles King and the Albertina Rasch ballet company.… Read more »

A Prophet in His Own Country [Jon Jost retrospective]

From the Chicago Reader (May 8, 1992). — J.R.

JON JOST RETROSPECTIVE

Last week Jon Jost, a Chicago-born independent filmmaker, was having the first commercial run of his career — All the Vermeers in New York, his tenth feature, at the Music Box. Typically, he couldn’t be around for the event because he was busy shooting his 12th feature in Oregon.

The Music Box engagement launches a Jost retrospective that continues at Chicago Filmmakers on weekends for the remainder of this month. It’s the most exciting and important American retrospective to hit town since the Music Box’s John Cassavetes series last fall, though like that series it isn’t quite complete: only about half of Jost’s shorts — most made in the 60s and early 70s — are included, and two of his features, Bell Diamond (1985) and Sure Fire (1990), are omitted. (Sure Fire may open here in the fall if enough people go to see All the Vermeers in New York.) Still, it’s the most comprehensive show of Jost’s work that’s ever come to Chicago, and it offers a great chance to catch up with a singular career that has been more subterranean than most, even among American independents.… Read more »

Why Is This Movie a Hit?

From the Chicago Reader (March 4, 1994). — J.R.

* ACE VENTURA: PET DETECTIVE

(Has redeeming facet)

Directed by Tom Shadyac

Written by Jack Bernstein, Jim Carrey, and Shadyac

With Carrey, Sean Young, Courteney Cox, Tone Loc, and Dan Marino.

Why go back to a movie that affected me the first time like a piece of chalk squeaking across a blackboard? Well, for one thing, neither I nor any other reviewer I know of came anywhere close to predicting that Ace Ventura: Pet Detective would not only find an audience but sail to the top of the box-office charts. How did we all miss the boat? “An appallingly bad movie, a certain candidate for worst of the year,” begins Gene Siskel’s capsule review in the Tribune; it concludes, “Don’t ask how this was financed.” These were my sentiments exactly at the press screening — a sort of stupefied horror at the manic leers and terminally stupid gags of star and cowriter Jim Carrey, coupled with disbelief that anyone could possibly go for them. But when the movie opened it soon became clear that at least some financiers knew exactly what they were doing. What did they understand that the rest of us grown-ups missed out on?… Read more »

CALIFORNIA SPLIT (1974 review)

From Monthly Film Bulletin, December 1974 (Vol. 41, No. 491).

It’s really a pity that the version of California Split that eventually came out

on DVD, due to musical clearances, had to eliminate some of the play with

Phyllis Shotwell’s songs alluded to here. (For a much later consideration of

this film, including these changes, go here.) — J.R.

CALIFORNIA SPLIT

 

 

U.S.A., 1974Director: Robert Altman

In a poker game at a gambling casino near Los Angeles, Charlie

Waters, a winner, is accused by Lew, a sore loser, of playing in

 

cahoots with the dealer, Bill Denny. Bill and Charlie become

acquainted afterwards in a nearby bar and get cheerfully drunk

together; outside, they are beaten up by Lew (with the help of

friends), who makes off with their winnings. Charlie invites

Bill to stay over at his house, which he shares with two

prostitutes, Barbara and Susan. In the morning, Bill returns to

his job on a glossy magazine but is persuaded to take off that

afternoon and join Charlie at the racetrack, where they make

a small fortune on one of Charlie’s hunches. Wanting to celebrate

with Barbara and Susan, they pretend to be policemen in order to

intimidate the girls’ transvestite client “Helen” and persuade

him to leave, then go to a prizefight.… Read more »

Films of the Year

 From the January 2015 issue of Sight and Sound. — J.R.

HorseMoney
Horse Money
Director(s): Pedro Costa

 

adieu-au-langage

Adieu au langage
Director(s): Jean-Luc Godard

 

locke
 
Locke
Director(s): Steven Knight

 

TheOwners
 
The Owners
Director(s): Adilkhan Yerzhanov

 


 citizenfour
Citizenfour
Director(s): Laura Poitras

 

Borgen sc1244

TV vote
Borgen
Director(s): several

***

Today

redrosetrailer

WORDSANDPICTURES

Remarks:
 
Sadly, I’ve had to omit two exceptional Iranian films (Reza Mirkarimi’s
Today, Sepideh Farsi’s Red Rose), two exceptional performances by Juliette Binoche (Fred Schepisi & Gerald Di Pego’s Words and Pictures, Olivier Assayas’s Clouds of Sils Maria), Alain Resnais’ final feature (Life of Riley), and the belated appearance of Orson Welles’ unfinished and ancient but still-sprightly Too Much Johnson. But my top five continue to provoke and expand. Horse Money and The Owners need to travel more, and Locke, which feels like a classic heroic Western, deserves to be recognized as more than just a stunt or tour de force. Adieu au language re-invents 3-D and cinema, and Horse Money, like The Owners, Citizenfour, and Today (not to mention Borgen, in its own fashion). re-invents both the world and its moral prerogatives.

cloudsofsilsmaria

aimer-boire-et-chanter

TooMuchJohnsonRead more »

Valerie and Her Week of Wonders

From the Chicago Reader (December 5, 2003). Criterion is releasing a Blu-Ray of this film today. P.S. If you hit and load the second and third illustrations below, you can see them move slightly. — J.R.

Valerie

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I only recently caught up with Jaromil Jires’s overripe 1970 exercise in Prague School surrealism, now that it’s become available again, and I’m miffed that I had to wait so long. The 13-year-old title heroine, who’s just had her first period, traipses through a shifting landscape of sensuous, anticlerical, and vaguely medieval fantasy-horror enchantments that register more as a collection of dream adventures, spurred by guiltless and polysexual eroticism, than as a conventional narrative. Virtually every shot is a knockout — for comparable use of color, you’d have to turn to some of Vera Chytilova’s extravaganzas of the same period, such as Daisies and Fruit of Paradise. If you aren’t too anxious about decoding what all this means, you’re likely to be entranced. In Czech with subtitles; a 35-millimeter print will be shown. 77 min. Gene Siskel Film Center.

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valerie2Read more »

Jazz Goes to the Movies (at Il Cinema Ritrovato)

Today at Il Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna, Ehsan Khoshbakht and I launch our “Jazz Goes to the Movies” program, and reproduced below are our catalogue descriptions of what we’ll be showing. — J.R.

Jazz Goes to the Movies

Now that jazz is no longer assumed to be automatically synonymous with decadence and the forces of darkness, it can finally be experienced and evaluated on its own terms, and we can begin to look back on a century-long partnership of jazz and film with a certain objectivity. Both are relatively new arts roughly contemporaneous with the 20th century, having grown out of socially disreputable origins and having fought for serious recognition.

Jammin the Blues Prez
Part of this partnership has yielded the “jazz film,” a subgenre basically devoted to the recording of performances. But there are also successful collaborations between the expressive possibilities of jazz and film. And the ways in which jazz has been used in movies invariably tells us a great deal about the social, ethnic, aesthetic, and cultural biases of diverse societies and periods. The various responses of film producers to integrated jazz groups in the thirties, forties, and fifties, provide a kind of thumbnail social history. Sometimes black musicians were forced to play off-screen while white stand-ins mimed their solos and sometimes white musicians were kept in the shadows to appear black.… Read more »

Tales from the Vault

This piece appeared in the Chicago Reader less than four years ago (10 December 2004). One particular reason for reviving it now is the happy news that The Exiles (see first illustration below) and all the Val Lewton horror films, including The Seventh Victim, which were relatively scarce items when they showed back then at the Gene Siskel Film Center, are now readily available on DVD, in excellent editions. Due to its lack of the usual auteurist credentials—specifically, the mediocre reputation of Mark Robson—The Seventh Victim continues to be the most neglected of Lewton’s greatest films, but it’s no longer hard to find.

Burn, Witch, Burn is much harder to come by, though under the title Night of the Eagle it can be found on a pricey region 2 DVD. And according to Amazon, A Tale of Two Sisters is currently available in multiple editions in the U.S. and elsewhere —J.R.

The Exiles **** (Masterpiece)

Directed and written by Kent Mackenzie

With Yvonne Williams, Homer Nish, Tommy Reynolds, and Rico Rodriguez

The Seventh Victim **** (Masterpiece)

Directed by Mark Robson

Written by Charles O’Neal and Dewitt Bodeen

With Kim Hunter, Jean Brooks, Hugh Beaumont, Erford Gage, Tom Conway, and Mary Newton

A Tale of Two Sisters * (Has redeeming facet)

Directed and written by Kim Jee-woon

With Yeom Jeong-a, Im Soo-jung, Moon Geun-young, and Kim Kab-su

Burn, Witch, Burn *** (A must see)

Directed by Sidney Hayers

Written by Richard Matheson and Charles Beaumont

With Janet Blair, Peter Wyngarde, Margaret Johnston, and Anthony Nicholls

By Jonathan Rosenbaum

Few movie-industry executives–and not just in the U.S.–understand the value of the older films in their vaults, and as a consequence many masterpieces and other exceptional releases have languished there for decades.… Read more »

How to Read the Revolution [BLUSH]

From the Chicago Reader (October 4, 1996); also reprinted in my collection Essential Cinema. — J.R.

Blush

Rating **** Masterpiece

Directed by Li Shaohong

Written by Ni Zhen and Li

With Wang Ji, Wang Zhiwen, He Saifei, Zgang Liwei, Wang Rouli, Song Xiuling, Xing Yangchun, Zhou Jianying, and Cao Lei.

The use of multiple perspectives in Chinese painting was not for the purpose of making a hologram, nor was the use of parallel perspectives for the purpose of retaining the true dimensions of the objects represented. What was desired was rather a point of view which transcended that of the individual. The apparent horizon and vanishing point employed by Renaissance perspective made the image seem concrete, but demanded substantial identification with a particular viewer. Such images were perceived as both individual and momentary, seen by a particular person at a particular time. Chinese painting strove for a timeless, communal impression, which could be perceived by anyone, and yet was not a scene viewed by anyone in particular.

Chinese paintings did not portray reality; the world which the viewer entered was the realm of literature or philosophy, a realm which transcended nature. To enjoy a long tableau with small figures, one must shift one’s line of sight left and right, or up and down, a necessary condition for the appreciation of Chinese visual representation.Read more »

The Self-Aware Action Hero [on LAST ACTION HERO]

From the Chicago Reader (June 24, 1993). — J.R.

LAST ACTION HERO

** (Worth seeing)

Directed by John McTiernan

Written by Shane Black, David Arnott, Zak Penn, and Adam Leff

With Arnold Schwarzenegger, Austin O’Brien, Charles Dance, Anthony Quinn, Tom Noonan, Mercedes Ruehl, F. Murray Abraham, and Robert Prosky.

The word is out:  Last Action Hero is an unmitigated disaster. The sound of studio panic was plainly audible in a report in the June 17 New York Times that Columbia Pictures threatened to sever all communications with the Los Angeles Times if it didn’t guarantee it would “never again run a story written or reported by Jeff Wells about (or even mentioning) this studio, its executives, or its movies.” Wells’s crime was a June 6 article in the Los Angeles Times reporting that a test-marketing preview of Last Action Hero held in Pasadena about two weeks earlier had been disappointing. The article contained “categorical denials” from several studio executives that such a screening had ever taken place, but clearly this wasn’t enough for the industry people. As Wells told the New York Times, “You’re talking about a studio in a major meltdown mode. These guys are blitzing out here.”

I read this story only hours before seeing another “disappointing” preview of Last Action Hero in Chicago, after several weeks of hearing rumors that the picture was a “mess” and in deep, deep trouble.… Read more »

Commercial Correctness

I can happily report that some portions of the following–which originally appeared in the December 24, 1993 issue of the Chicago Reader—are out of date, because all the films reported here as unavailable (I Want To Go Home, The Decalogue, The Lovers of Pont-Neuf) have subsequently become available. —J.R.

We all know what political correctness is–though the nuances of the term may vary depending on whether you’re inside or outside academia and whether or not you regard it as exclusively the preserve of the left. (Personally, I consider Rush Limbaugh and Andrea Dworkin both charter members of the club.) Commercial correctness in movie ideology, however, has yet to be defined, even though it currently engulfs both the entertainment industry and the audience.

Political correctness can be defined as the demand by members of an oppressed minority—or at least those like Limbaugh who consider themselves equivalent to members of an oppressed minority—to be treated with respect. Commercial correctness, on the other hand, can be defined as the demand of members of a reigning majority—or at least those who consider themselves equivalent to members of a reigning majority—that minority works and positions be treated without respect. The goal of commercial correctness, in fact, is to ignore, impede, and eliminate these works and positions—to remove them from the face of the planet as efficiently and unobtrusively as possible.… Read more »

Sam Fuller Spills His Guts

My first meeting with Samuel Fuller is chronicled in this interview/essay published in the July 9, 1980 issue of The Soho News. Seven years later, while concluding my academic career at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where I was placed in charge of running the film studies summer school program, I was still crazy about Fuller, and invited him to serve as our “visiting artist”, which led to our becoming friends from that summer until his death a decade later. I did my best to try to capture his singular way of talking in this article. For my title, I’m using the headline on that issue’s front page, not the title given inside (“Sam Fuller Reshoots the War”). — J.R.

SamFuller

When I enter his suite at the plaza, he’s finishing lunch, expressing his regret about missing Godard at Cannes, remarking on the absurdity of prizes at film festivals, asking me what Soho News and Soho are. (The one he knows about is in London — he fondly recalls a cigar store on Frith Street.)

It isn’t hard to figure out why Mark Hamill affectionately calls him Yosemite Sam, or why Lee Marvin simply says he’s D.W. Griffith. Bursting with the same charismatic, comic-book energy that sky-rockets through most of his movies, old crime reporter, novelist, war hero, writer-director and sometime producer Samuel Fuller, almost 69, still moves and talks like his daffy action flicks — like the wild man from Borneo — in quick, short, blocky punches, like two-fisted slabs of socko headline type.… Read more »